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Friday, January 9, 2009

NEW ATTACK ON SWAZI TERROR LAW

The following is a media statement from the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) in response to Amnesty International’s report condemning Swaziland’s Suppression of Terrorism Act 2008 (STA).


Amnesty concludes that the provisions of the STA ‘threaten human rights, are inherently repressive, breach Swaziland’s obligations under international and regional human rights laws and the Swaziland Constitution, and are already leading to violations of the rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly.’


To get the full Amnesty report, click here.


Coalition calls Suppression of Terrorism Law Counter Productive


In light of the recent Amnesty International / International Bar Association Report the Coalition repeats the calls from that report that the Suppression of Terrorism Act be immediately repealed and work started on strengthening the existing criminal law to deal with real threats of terrorism.


It is an act that has more than seventy breaches of international law and good practice. It is too broad and too vague to even be properly called a law.


The Coalition stands by its position of no tolerance for terrorism and recognises the duty of the state to protect the health and wellbeing of its citizens. However, that duty cannot be at the expense of our human rights.


The definition of terrorism is so wide and broad to be vague and meaningless. A law, especially criminal law, must be accessible, precise and non-discriminatory. The UN also stipulates that to protect human rights anti-terrorism law must be applicable to counter terrorism alone. That is clearly not the case here.


This act, and the present government’s use of this act, does not seem to recognise that if rights are to be set aside in times of emergency or when the state is facing a real threat of terrorism that it must be done proportionately, reasonably and carefully.


In the hands of this government, the act is being misapplied to merely silence legitimate dissent and to threaten and abuse the rights of those who care to question the government by branding them supporters of terrorism. The areas of the act with the least judicial oversight are those areas dealing with banning of organisations as terrorist or supporters of terrorism.


These have the potential to be abused to further silence critical voices in the press and in Non-Governmental Organisations. We have already seen the government threaten individuals, Diplomats, Journalists and NGOs under this section. It is unjust, unreasonable and undemocratic and it must stop.


The potential to hold a person for seven days repeatedly without access to a lawyer or even a judge is exactly the kind of law that leads to torture and the sort of treatment that Jestina Mukoko and other Human Rights Defenders have received in Zimbabwe.


Let us get a sense of realism and proportion here - is Mario Masuku equivalent to Osama Bin Laden? Is PUDEMO a branch of Al-Qaeda? Those are the sort of organisations and actions that anti-terrorism laws are meant to counter. Our criminal law is already well enough equipped to deal with instances of violence.


This act and this government’s behaviour along with the continuing ban on political parties and human rights abuses are exactly the reasons that Swaziland comes in the bottom twenty in the world on the Ruling Justly Millennium Challenge Account scorecard that the Deputy Prime Minister was recently complaining about.


The Coalition calls upon the government and the new parliamentarians to make the replacement of this act a matter of utmost urgency. The Coalition and its members will support a reasonably drafted anti-terrorism law that balances the protection of the safety and security of Swazis should a credible terrorist threat arise with our inalienable human rights. This act does not do that.

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